So today, when my friend and hard-working journalist Anna Kemper wrote from Berlin, it was Itka she needed. Since Copti and Shani's "Ajami" got its Oscar nomination, Interest around it grew in Europe. Anna was looking for an insider's perspective and got perhaps more than she bargained for. I remember Itka returning from the cinema ill at ease after watching Ajami. Amidst the white noise of appreciation, she voiced reservation, having sensed a whiff of exploitation.
What she wrote today begs to be featured here as a guest text. Here it is, accompanied by photos both of us have taken over the past two years.
Had the film "Ajami" been given a different, fictional name and featured professional actors, I would say it's a good action movie, but "Ajami" is named after a real neighborhood in which I live, and features real people, whom I know. For this reason I felt a great discomfort watching it. I found the reality of Ajami to be distorted in the film in several ways.
There are many problems of violence in Ajami, but they are portrayed as being similar to those of any big city slum. The story here is different. The problems stem from the government's racist policies which define Israeli Arabs as 2nd degree citizens, and have contibuted to turning West Bank and Gaza Palestinians into the victims of human rights violations.
When the makers of Ajami reveal, they reveal partially. When they keep an issue hidden, it's hidden entirely. The biggest problem in Ajami today is the housing. This problem is not even mentioned in the film! during the war of 1948, many Arabs fled from their houses. Israel took possession of those houses. In most of them the government settled Jews and in some neighborhoods, such as Ajami and the old city of Acco, Arabs.
Since then, most of the houses in ajami belong to the state and the tenants are paying rent even if they used to own the house before the war. Today, the real estate sharks are discovering the nice, old beachfront neighborhood and are promoting a fast, cruel gentrification process in which a lot of the tenents are kicked out with no housing solution. the houses in north Ajami are now all gated mansions worth millions of dollars.
There's always been a Jewish minority in Ajami, living for the most part in peace with its neighbors. "Ajami" the film focuses on confrontations and tensions that exist between Jews and Arabs in Israel, But I find most relationships between the two groups in this specific neighborhood to be good and warm.
Yes, there's a crime issue here, and the usual baggage, but politically driven murders such as the one described in the film are exceedingly rare. Compared with mixed neighborhoods in such towns as Ramle and Lod, Ajami fares well. It is actually a good example of Arab/Jewish coexistance, if you rule out the yuppies that come to live in their palaces up north.
The main story, that of a teenage shot by mistake, is real. But Ajami has so many good things going for it. Good community life, solidarity, beautiful spots and a unique energy. Almost none of this is present in the film. The hardship of Ajami is caused by a political reason, and that isn't present in the film either. The filmmakers present real problems, but don't reveal their significant source. If they can't deal with these issues, they should have named the film "Faaadlu" and set it in some imaginary land.
Osnat Ita Skoblinski